BIAL is a Portuguese pharmaceutical company whose mission is to discover, develop and provide therapeutic solutions within the area of health. The Fundação BIAL is the non-profit foundation arm of company and is a major funder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences and parapsychology in general. Every two years Fundação BIAL has a conference in Porto, Portugal bringing their grantees together for presentations, discussions, and networking in a stimulating environment. They also have the noble goal of having scientists present on non-controversial topics—stimulating and collegial conversations between mainstream and parapsychological scientists. Many scientists have never heard of the more controversial topics typical for IONS scientists, and thus, expansion of everyone’s worldview ensues.
The conference kicked off with many speakers from the community lauding BIAL’s efforts, including Portugal’s Secretary of Health, Fernando Araujo. The theme for this year’s conference was Behind and Beyond the Brain, Enhancing the Mind. There were approximately 150 attendees from around the world. Topics ranged from cognitive enhancement to amplified states of consciousness to collective intelligence. Three IONS scientists attended the conference this year: Julia Mossbridge, Arnaud Delorme, and myself. Julia and Arnaud both presented on their projects and had posters describing the details of their studies. Poster sessions at conferences allow attendees to meet the researchers and ask specific questions about the study and results.
Dr. Julia Mossbridge talked about her study that evaluated how hormonal status affects people’s precognition or the ability to gain information from the future. She administered an online task where people were asked to remember 48 words, then take a word-recognition test on them. The participants then did a practice session where they did exercises to learn 24 of the words, which were randomly selected from the original 48. The hypothesis was that participants who were able to gain information from the future practice session more readily would perform better on the practice words in the word-recognition test. Interestingly, Julia found that two hormonal status groups had statistically significant results but in two opposite directions. Pregnant women had more correct words, whereas, women without a uterus had fewer correct words. One could imagine that pregnancy would be a state in which information from the future would be very helpful, although it is not yet clear why hysterectomized women would show an opposing effect. Dr. Mossbridge’s hypothesis is that reproductive hormones are somehow related to precognition.
Dr. Arnaud Delorme talked about his study evaluating experimenter effects in parapsychology experiments. It is widely believed in parapsychological research that certain scientists get better results in their parapsychology experiments than others, although the reason for this is not known. Some think that some experimenters are better at getting the participant more comfortable and thus, performing better. Some think that the scientist has their own innate psychic ability that is consciously or unconsciously influencing the experiment towards their intended result. Arnaud and IONS fellow Marilyn Schlitz designed a clever study that evaluates how the experimenters’ belief in psychic ability like precognition affects their participants’ performance on a precognition task. Data were collected on more than 1000 participants. They found that although a psi effect was likely to be present, it did not depend on the experimenter expectations and beliefs.
Helané Wahbeh also attended but did not make an official presentation because her BIAL funded study “A physiological examination of full-trance channeling” is not yet complete. Despite that, she spoke with many researchers from around the world about the study specifically and the IONS Channeling Research Program in general. Six trance channelers have come to our lab where we recorded their brain and heart waves, among other measures while they went into and out of trance channeling and we are actively recruiting six more. She also met Luís Portela, the Chairman of BIAL and Fundação BIAL administrative staff in person as my new role as director, strengthening our administrative connections. Helané had fascinating conversations with many scientists. For example, she learned from Dr. Amir Raz, Professor and Director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Brain and Behavioral Sciences at Chapman University, that he was synchronistically trained in magic by the same person as Uri Geller, the famous self-proclaimed psychic who had been tested by renowned psi scientist Charles Tart at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1970s.
Conferences are wonderful places to exchange ideas, compare notes, and develop collaborations in a nurturing environment. All our scientists left the conference excited, supported, and inspired with numerous “handshakes” for international collaborations bringing our work at IONS further into the world.